The disproportional threat of workplace violence in the healthcare environment has been among the most discussed and analyzed topics in the security industry for more than a decade. There are, of course, myriad issues that contribute to making hospital settings more prone to violent outbursts, including increased emotional stress on patients and family members dealing with an illness, financial struggles, an influx of forensic and mental health patients, as well as the various interpersonal dynamics of employees and visitors that all organizations must confront.
In fact, according to figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers accounted for 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence in 2018. Nurses, doctors and others who work in the space have attempted to shine a spotlight on the issue and have even seen numerous state legislatures enact laws to stiffen penalties against those found guilty of assaulting healthcare workers, but it is something that has largely gone unnoticed by the U.S. public.
However, the results of a new consumer survey have found that many Americans are now more aware about the workplace violence threats that plague the healthcare sector, with many calling for significant changes. According to the survey, which was conducted by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX), a healthcare business and data automation firm, 60% of Americans reported being concerned about the safety and security of loved ones in a hospital or medical facility, and 88% said that individuals in such facilities should feel as safe as they do in airports and/or airplanes.
Other findings from the survey include:
- 58% of Americans are worried about nurses and other clinicians being harmed while on hospital property.
- 66% agree nurses and other frontline healthcare workers are more likely than those in other professions to be victims of workplace violence and 69% agree safety is a cause of nurses leaving the profession in large numbers.
- 82%believe that more state/federal action should be taken to keep healthcare workers safe.
- 75% say that hospitals have an opportunity to improve the safety and security of their facilities.
- 63% of Americans are concerned about someone unauthorized walking the halls of a hospital and 40% don’t feel safe entering a hospital and/or medical facility today.
Chrystie Leonard, General Manager, GHX Vendormate, which is the company’s vendor and visitor management system, says they were somewhat surprised by the number of people who reported being concerned about security and safety issues in healthcare facilities today.
“We hypothesized our research would show there was some level of concern among the American public about the safety of healthcare facilities given the reporting on the rise in workplace violence in healthcare. But we were surprised by the level of general concern that was reported in the survey,” Leonard explains. “The fact that two in five Americans simply don’t feel safe entering a hospital or medical facility today is staggering. It’s important to note our survey defined safety as ‘safety from physical harm, injury or danger caused by a person.’”
Although there has not been much research conducted yet on the impact that Covid-19 may have had on increasing levels of workplace violence in healthcare facilities, Leonard says she suspects the pandemic has likely contributed to a number of different issues that hospitals are currently dealing with, including burnout and fatigue among staff, prolonged anxiety and stress, financial insecurity and the general increase in substance abuse and declining mental health. It is also apparent, according to Leonard, that healthcare organizations are taking steps to try and improve safety and security throughout their facilities in light of the public’s concerns.
“Public recognition of and voicing concern about the level of workplace violence occurring in healthcare can have an enormous impact on creating safer, more secure spaces for healthcare workers. As they have considered ways to do this, we have seen the number of policies related to safety and security, COVID, codes of conduct and beyond significantly increase,” she adds. “In fact, we’ve processed more than 1,300 policy additions across 330 health systems since March 2020.”
Workplace Violence Mitigation Strategies
While there is no silver bullet for alleviating workplace violence in healthcare, Leonard recommends that hospitals begin by taking three basic steps: monitoring and controlling access to facilities; reviewing and implementing safety standards and best practices issued by organizations, such as The Joint Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); and by deploying a “modern” visitor access management solutions.
“One area of opportunity for healthcare workplace violence prevention programs is to rethink the notion that establishing a modern vendor credentialing and visitor management program is a once-and-done effort. Maintaining proper, updated programs must be an ongoing initiative,” she explains. “This starts with creating a culture of compliance from the very top of a healthcare organization. Everyone in a health facility should become familiar with the health systems’ visitor management policies and practices. For example, healthcare systems should ensure all locations and departments require visitors, including vendor representatives, to check-in and wear a visible badge while in the facility. More than ever, it’s vital for hospital leadership to create a safer, more secure environment for staff, patients and visitors and support policies that adopt a zero-tolerance approach to workplace violence.”Joel Griffin is the Editor of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].